Michal Lem­berg­er is the author of the book After Abel and Oth­er Sto­ries. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

Lot’s Wife. She’s a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter. So many the­olo­gians, poets, writ­ers, and artists have been drawn to this mys­te­ri­ous fig­ure. What does it mean to turn back? Why was she turned into a pil­lar of salt? Was the pull of home just too pow­er­ful to resist a last glance? Did she show too much attach­ment to the past? Was she pun­ished for giv­ing into a voyeuris­tic urge to see oth­ers suffer? 

I thought about her for decades, begin­ning in Jew­ish Day School, then in col­lege, where I stud­ied Eng­lish and Reli­gion, and into grad­u­ate school, when I wrote a dis­ser­ta­tion about how twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can poets inter­pret­ed the first three chap­ters of Gen­e­sis. I want­ed to include her, but Lot’s wife didn’t fit. I guess she had lodged her­self into my mind and stayed there, though, wait­ing patient­ly for the moment to make her pres­ence felt again. And when she did, I real­ized that it wasn’t the woman-as-pil­lar-of-salt that drew me to her. It was what came before. If all we focus on is what hap­pens to her at the end, we lose sight of the life she may have lived up until her dra­mat­ic, ter­ri­ble transformation.

Who was she? What was her name? We could ask these ques­tions about so many of the women who walk through the Bible’s pages. Many of them aren’t even named, because too often a woman’s pres­ence in a sto­ry is impor­tant or worth not­ing only because of her con­nec­tion to a man. Her hus­band, her father, her broth­er may each be a main play­er, but she usu­al­ly stays in the background. 

We are all the heroes of the sto­ries of our own lives, but the women of the Bible aren’t giv­en the chance to play those roles. (That’s even true of some of the women — like Yael or Hagar — who do get to play active roles; their sto­ries often advance the inter­ests of oth­ers.) The ques­tions that my book, After Abel, attempts to answer are: what are their sto­ries? How would they think? What would they say if we gave them a chance to speak? What would be impor­tant to them — would it be the same as what the men val­ue? Or would there be a shad­ow world, one that exists next to the offi­cial­ly sanc­tioned account, in which the details of inher­i­tance or war don’t pre­oc­cu­py their minds, but would instead be filled with the smell of food, the feel of a newborn’s skin, and the close ties of fam­i­ly and friend­ship that hold com­mu­ni­ties together?

It all start­ed with Lot’s Wife, who lived a whole, name­less life before turn­ing into a pil­lar of salt.

Michal Lemberger’s non­fic­tion and jour­nal­ism have appeared in Slate, Salon, Tablet, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and her poet­ry has been pub­lished in a num­ber of print and online jour­nals. She holds a BA in Eng­lish and reli­gion from Barnard Col­lege and a MA and PhD in Eng­lish from UCLA, and she has taught the Bible as lit­er­a­ture at UCLA and the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Uni­ver­si­ty. Michal lives in Los Ange­les with her hus­band and daugh­ters. Learn more at michallem​berg​er​.com.

Relat­ed Content:

Michal Lem­berg­er holds a BA in Eng­lish and Reli­gion from Barnard Col­lege and a MA and PhD in Eng­lish from UCLA. Her non­fic­tion and jour­nal­ism have appeared in Slate, Salon, Tablet, Lilith Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers; her poet­ry has been pub­lished in a num­ber of print and online jour­nals, includ­ing The Belle­vue Lit­er­ary Review and The Rat­tling Wall.